Tuesday, May 22, 2012

6 People, 200 miles, Infinite Banjo-playing Zombies

Webb: Last Fall I was chatting with friend and blog-reader Nathan about doing a 200-mile relay as an ultra team. Elle and I have each done three 200-mile relays on standard 12-person teams. Neither of us had done one as an ultra. An ultra team has between four and six. The volume of our run training is not typical for someone who runs on an ultra team. That was ok because the primary consideration in any 24+ hour race is who is in the van. With Nathan spearheading the effort, we were off to a good start.

Elle: So here's how it went down. Webb and Nathan were getting all chatty about an Ultra team, and then Webb informed me that I would be running on it.
     Elle: "But that's a LOT of running, I don't know if..."
     Webb: "You're on the team. Accept it."
     Elle: "ok."

Captain Nathan and the
Team Ultra Thirst van
Webb: That's not how I remember it. It was more like:
     Webb: "Hey! Check this out! I'm going to run RTB with     Nathan as an ultra. You should do it too!"
      Elle: "That is a lot of running. I don't know if ..."
     Webb: "Pssshaww. You could totally do it. We'll make it part of our training."
      Elle: "I hate you."

We were Team Ultra Thirst. Nathan had run relays with Team Powerthirst in the past. They were inspired by this - um, not sure what to call it - advertisement? Team Powerthirst had a standard team running in this relay, so Nathan modified our team name accordingly.

Elle: This fake ad for a drink called 'Powerthirst' is freaking hilarious. It's so funny, a company actually started making the drink.

Reach the Beach - Massachusetts
Mt. Wachusett to Horseneck Beach in Westport, MA.

Webb: Friday we woke up at 5AM to load up the car and pick up Jason so we could be at the van rental space by 7AM. We met Nathan and Corey there and were on the road by 8AM to meet up with Jen at the start line. Since this rag-tag group came together last minute we did not have an opportunity to put together a proper strategy. Everyone was game to do things on the fly. All we had was a batting order: 1- Corey, 2- Nathan, 3- Jason, 4- Elle, 5- Webb, 6- Jen.

Elle: With about a week before the race, Nathan informed us that we had just lost half of our team. You have to have at least 4 to be allowed to run, but you still had to cover the 200 miles. And even if I could run ~30 miles, there was no way I could run 50! So we scrambled and sounded the social media alarm - we needed runners, pronto! We acquired Corey from the 'Reach the Beach' forum where runners go to find a team to be on. Sweet. Then my good 'ol friend Jason, who's always coming through, offered to join us. The final piece of the puzzle came together with less than 24 hours before the race start in the form of ultra-runner Jen Barker. And Team Ultra Thirst was born. Again.

RUN #1

This is why we run.
Elle: My first leg (Leg #4, 8.42 miles) started out frustrating, as my Garmin refused to locate a satellite for almost 3 miles. So I only have data for 6.62 miles of it, of which I ran an 8:03 minute/mile. This was one of those runs that reminds you of why you run. The route was beautiful, the weather was perfect. This is going to be a fun 24-hours...

Webb: Leg #5 (7.69 miles). My first run was 7.69 miles of rolling hills. The plan was to keep my HR in zones 1-2 both to ensure I'd be able to do all of my future legs and to do some good aerobic towards our priority race.

RUN #2

Look, it's Ultra-Runner Jen Barker!
Elle: Leg #10 & #11 (3.68 + 4.45 = 8.13 miles). My Garmin recorded 8.17 miles with an average pace of 8:21 minute/mile. I had slowed down, apparently. I did have a little bit of pain starting up in my knees, but I changed up my form in order to stave off any problems. One of the rules of RTB is:
  • Runners must wear reflective vests and blinking lights and carry a flashlights or wear headlamps when running between the hours of 6:00 PM and 6:00 AM.
So even though the sun was shining, I donned the oh-so-attractive reflective, strappy vest and head lamp and headed out for another run. I decided to do 2 legs back-to-back in order to get my big runs out of the way early on. This proved to be a good decision.

Webb: Legs #12 & #13 (10.66 miles). On the fly, the van discussed me running legs #12 and #13 back-to-back. I didn't ask but they were described as "easy" and "moderate." Knights of Columbus! that was the hardest "easy" and "moderate" running I have ever done. Nay, it was the hardest running I have ever done. Two days later the best reason I can come up with is nutrition - both before and on the run.

I ran most of Leg #12 pretty well even though my legs were not recovered fully from Run #1. My tired legs were a good reminder to keep it easy. I stayed on task and kept the effort level reasonable, until the last mile or so when things started to get a bit dodgy.

Leg #12: Sometimes Hell ...
Before I started my easy leg, we ordered pizza and sandwiches for takeaway. Team Ultra Thirst headed off to pick up the food while I trudged along. As I made the nearly mile-long trek up the final hill, Elle met me on the side of the road with a magical elixir called Coca-Cola. I don't know if you have heard of it, but it does wonders when your muscles feel like they are yielding to the challenge. Prior to that, each step forewarned of cramping in each calf. Afterwards, the pain in my calves remained but I had renewed energy. I rolled into TA12 feeling confident I could take on the shorter Leg #13.

Leg #13 had other ideas. From the get-go I had to climb out of Hopkinton State Park. After a half-mile the road descended and some life came back into my legs. I caught the woman in front of me and we began to chat. I had not looked at the profiles of any of the legs. I intended to run whatever the course gave me. She told me she was conserving her energy for the hill up ahead. "Oh. What hill?" I asked.

Leg #13: ... is up above you.
By the time I summited at the 2.5 mile mark, my legs were trashed. I wasn't tired. My HR was probably pretty low (my belt battery died on Run #1). I just didn't have it in the legs anymore. Even descending became very painful and I consider myself a good downhill runner. Looking at the profile above you cannot understand how hard and awful the inclines were at miles 3.75 and 4.6. There were actually moments on both of those were I almost fell due to wobbly legs. In hindsight, I should have walked them. I would have gone faster (seriously) and done less damage to myself. Eventually I made it to the exchange and passed off to Jen. Elle, as always, was waiting for me. This time with pizza and more Coke. Once I stopped moving, my legs began to tremble and I thought I was going to fall down.

RUN #3

Elle: Leg #18 (4.15 miles, 8:09 minute/mile). Since this leg was a bit shorter, I was able to speed up my pace. Running at night is fun in one way, but also frustrating, when the road conditions are patching and pot-holey, and you only have a small halo of light to lead the way. But it was mostly a nice run. I was glad, however, to see the transition area up ahead and looked forward to passing off to Webb. So I ran in with a big finish, as I like to do, and....wait.....where's Webb? Where's my team? Not there. I waited for awhile before one of the RTB transition volunteers asked me if I wanted to use his phone. So I called Webb.

Webb: Meanwhile back at the van. "Webb, your phone is ringing?"
"Huh? Wha?"  <hmmm, I don't know this number. Oh no.> "Hello? You are HERE??? ok ok ok ok ok ok, I'll be right there." That is the extent of my memory on that. And it could be wrong. I had fallen asleep after my big run and pizza feast. I also remember that I did not know where the exchange area was in relation to the van or where I was supposed to run once Elle passed off the baton.

Webb: Leg #19 (6.51 miles). One look at Elle standing there waiting for who-knows-how-long struck me with indescribable guilt. I didn't have time to apologize because I didn't know where I was or what to do and just wanted her to get out of the exchange chute. A volunteer pointed me in the right direction and off I went.

Do not inhale pizza and expect to run well within the next few hours. My body was terribly angry with me. Too much work. Not enough rest.  Pizza and cookies lazing around in my belly. I'd guess about two miles in I realized if I wasn't going to be able to sleep, I'd need to make it a recovery run. I slowed waaaaaay down and began walking the tougher sections of hills. It actually felt great to walk up the hills. I was getting a good stretch and started to feel a little normal again. Every now and then I would tell myself to pick up the pace and finish the stupid leg. Then I would think, hey, if this allows the team to catch a few more minutes of sleep, that is not so bad. Plus, I didn't have any more pace left in me.

RUN #4

Borderland Park Trail:
Would you run down this trail at night?
Elle: Leg #24 (3.61 miles, pace = unknown). This was, without a doubt, the scariest run I have ever done. The route was through Borderland State park, which, during the daylight hours, I'm sure is quite a scenic and lovely run. However, at 3am, in the pitch black darkness, with no runners up ahead, and no one behind me, alone, with the trees closing in on a narrow trail, it was like running through a horror movie. The headlamp lit a small halo of the trail in front, but also created creepy shadows of the plants, rocks, and who knows what else lurking in those woods. I felt a little bit like I was in a living nightmare. I had forgotten to put on my Garmin, so I had no idea how far I had run, or how much more I had to go before I was the hell out of there. If someone had a video of me running, it would have looked less like a runner in a race, and more like a victim, running for her life. I was running like a bat outta hell, I was sweating profusely, I was terrified. I was sure that any minute the headless horseman or some freakish woodsman was about to jump out of the woods and snatch me up.
Gawd, how much longer is this freaking trail?!? Oh, there's a blinking light up ahead, maybe it's another runner, oh, thank you! OH wait, it's just a light attached to a sign? Arrgghhh! Oh, there's a clearing, some starlight at least. Oh gawd, what's that sound? 
In the middle of the leg there was a brief clearing where a swamp hosted the loudest barking bullfrogs I've ever heard.
Finally, I did see the 'light at the end of the tunnel', and I exited the 'Ichabod Crane' horror run. I was so glad to finally be running into transition and to see a friendly face. But what's this? No Webb? No team? Abandoned again?!? This time I didn't wait, I asked a volunteer to use his phone and I called Webb. It rang and rang, and then I saw Webb, running across the parking lot towards me. I was just glad it was all over. 

Webb: Leg #25 (3.48 miles). Right out of the gate this one looked like it was going to be bad. Since Elle's leg was through the park, we had no idea where she was. Once we arrived at TA18 we tried to determine when we thought she would arrive. We figured we had 5-10 minutes. I jumped out of the driver's seat and began putting on my reflective gear, bib number, etc. Then Jason says, "Oh no. I think she is here. Your phone is ringing." DAMN! I grabbed the blinking-red light, clipped onto my race belt and ran to the exchange chute. On the way over it flew off, with pieces scattering across the parking lot. I gathered up the batteries, housing and lens and ran to meet Elle. I assembled the cursed thing, took the 'baton' and ran into the night.

Once again, the guilt was upon me, even though I had not fallen asleep. It was simply a convergence of a long and mostly slow-going van route to the Transition Area and Elle likely setting a PR while she was running for her life. I headed off on the short run on stiff, aching knees. After about a mile I stopped (to pick up the stupid light again) and that seemed to loosen up my knees. I finished strong and feeling like I'd be able to run again someday.

A quick side note: After my run, I heard another team talking about the Borderland State Park leg. One of the runners said she thought she was running in "The Walking Dead." 

RUN #5

Elle: Leg #31 (5.85 miles, 8:09 minute/mile pace) The weather was perfect, the sun was shining, this is what it's all about. As I ran along, I started to feel sad that this adventure was coming to an end, so I tried to cherish every mile. I must have run smart, because I wasn't having any real pain issues, I felt tired, and a little sore, for sure, but nothing that I couldn't handle. And the best part? Webb actually made it to transition in time for the hand-off, good job, honey.

Webb: Leg #32 (6.76 miles). There was no way I was not going to be at the exchange. Even Nathan was on me to make sure I was there in time. I actually had time to do some dynamic stretching and Mister Miyagi'ing of my knees. That did wonders! The first mile was still tough because it was hot and dry, and because I kept being passed by others. Didn't matter because there wasn't anything I could do about it. I put it into cruise control and hammed it up with the other vans who cheered me along the way. It was probably my second best run of the trip.  I came into TA32 feeling good knowing it was about to be over. And of course, there was Elle, once again, waiting for me at the exchange.


Elle: A great, fun time with an awesome team and fantastic weather. I loved it. I didn't know how I was going to handle running 30 miles, but when you have 24+ hours to do it, and get some rest in between, not so bad...

Webb: Relays are all about the van. It was a tough, painful adventure and totally worth it because of Team UltraThirst. I would not hesitate to jam myself into a van for 24 plus hours with these guys again. One last thing: Reach The Beach dominates Ragnar when it comes to creating a fun, safe and well-supported environment.


  1. Thanks for your comments about our relay and congrats on finishing RTB:MA!

    Good luck with the rest of your running this summer and perhaps join us at RTB:NH or NJ in the Fall :)

    Martin - Marketing Director, Reach The Beach Relay

  2. Jason: *Waking up* Hey there's an "On the Run" across the street!

    Jason: The best part of waking up is something something something something.....

  3. Thanks Martin. Obviously we had a great time; it was a great event. The volunteers were great. Plus we had zero problems with signs on the route. That is so important when you start to get tired and prone to mistakes. Thanks again.

  4. I think it went something like -

    Jen: I spilled coffee. Now I have coffee on my shorts.

    Jason: The best part of waking is up / is Folgers on your butt.

  5. I think it went something like -

    Corey: I need to get a drink or something.

    Jason: (Groggily, in his sleep) There's an 'On the Run' across the street.

    Elle: Um, no Jason, we're in the middle of no where. That was, like, an hour ago. Go back to sleep.

  6. Loved the recap guys, great meeting you afterwards!